In his sixth appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Dr John recalled his friendship with the late Claude Nobs, MJF’s founder, who died following a skiing accident in 2013, at age 76. In Nobs’ honor, Dr. John leaned heavily on selections from his upcoming album, Ske-Dat-De-Dat…The Spirit Of Satch, an homage to fellow New Orleanean Louis Armstrong.
Dr. John is known for his session work with the best in the world (The Rolling Stones, Sonny and Cher, Van Morrison, Aretha Franklin, Gregg Allman, Mike Bloomfield, Levon Helm, Ringo Starr, Rickie Lee Jones, B.B. King, Christina Aguilera and Eric Clapton, who often return the favor by guesting on the good doctor’s own releases), so it’s worth noting that the big band Rebennack has assembled really suits this world-class player. Led by his long-time trombonist Sarah Morrow (whose horn section is without peer and includes bari saxophonist Tini Thomsen, another standout female), virtually every member took a well-deserved solo, most notably drummer Reggie Jackson, Thomsen and Morrow herself. Not surprisingly, in a Satchmo tribute we heard a number of stellar trumpet solos, most notably by Nicholas Payton and Leslie Short.
The Blind Boys of Alabama joined Dr. John on two tunes on the album, “What a Wonderful World” and “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams,” both of which he played at Montreux. The Blind Boys do a famous version of “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun,” and Dr. John took a page from the Blind Boys’ playbook with a stunning version of “When the Saints Go Marching In” as a slow dirge, to the tune of “St. John’s Infirmary”—two New Orleans’ classics rolled into one. He also did the old spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” as a slow blues.
Dr. John is nothing if not unique, and throughout he made his own material new again, and old standards his own. His last tune, “Sweet Confusion,” (“if I don’t do it, somebody else will”) fit the tone perfectly—he finished the song with the last sequence from Gershwin’s masterpiece, “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” a fitting end to a killer set.